Archive for the ‘travel letters’ Category

Miss Beeton and Miss Wagner were most surprised to receive such a dramatic letter from Sir Walter Really.  They had previously assumed that Sir Walter was leading a life of luxury in some inner-suburban mansion.  They had no idea that he was in such dire circumstances.  This letter further illustrates the supreme comfort that can be found by communicating with others through carefully crafted correspondence.

Dear Miss Ethel May Beeton and Miss Dolores Wagner

First I must thank you both for reacquainting me with the simple art of hand-written correspondence.  The pleasure it has afforded me in recent days has been, at once, effortless and sublime.

A lonely candle dispels a chilly night, and my hands are unsteady from exhaustion.  It is nearing the eighth month, 1618, and the night air has already turned to chill.  Another month and the roads will be nothing but frost and I fear I will not survive a full winter in this place…if I am afforded that opportunity.

But, silly me, I race ahead too fast and you must be nauseous with confusion.  For I think it is the case that I did not convey to you the gravity of my current predicament in previous correspondence.

Suffice it to say that my situation is not good.  Simply put, had I not caused outrage to arise in the Honourable Spanish Ambassador at the culmination of my last voyage, I would, right this minute, be beside a fire place cradling an exotic cognac and coveting the company of my darling wife.  Yes!  That is where I would be and not in this prison cell.

Shall I like a hermit dwell

On a rock or in a cell

Tarry not on the darkness of my disposition.  I have not decided to write to you of my woes.  I write to recount my glory days.  To rejoice and to savour fond memories rekindled at the end of this quill.  To distract myself from the inevitability of my future and to give me something meaningful to do while I enjoy the world’s finest tobacco – smuggled in, my dears, from my private stash by guards easily bribed.

I shall write again before my time is up.

Sincerely Yours

Sir Walter Really


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A letter from Ms Wagner to her dear old friend Mr Hugo. Belatedly posted after her recent journey to Perth. The reason for the delay? The original letter was stolen from Miss Wagner’s van at Leighton Beach while she was taking a glorious stroll to Cottesloe. The lesson? Guard your correspondence with your life. This letter which (at the risk of offending Miss W’s feelings) is a bit rambling, explains her thoughts about the very different life her dear friend, Beatrice, leads in Perth. It also describes Miss Wagner’s reservations about her long-time former home, Perth.

Dear Mr Hugo,

I have just finished completing a worthy research project in the heartland of Western Australia, namely, Perth. I’m thinking of you fondly, remembering the gay times we’ve shared here.

I just visited our dear friends Beatrice, Edward, and Cynthia. They now live in a stately home in the reputable suburb of Bassendean. Cynthia, who was but a hypothetical during your time in Perth, has recently acquired a lethal weapon – the power of conversation. Mostly, she uses it for the power of good, although she is occasionally petulant.

Beatrice is now a doctor, working at the West Australian University where she has become famous for her pioneering studies into stem cell science. I went to watch one of her lectures, and was amused by her charming, flirtatious manner. Admittedly, I spent ten minutes plucking fluff off my jacket, but this was attributable to the too intimate time I had spent with Sir Richard Daintree, Edward’s canine, rather than the quality of the lecture.

After the lecture we dined at the Old Cafeteria. I opted for a limp looking tuna patty and a brutally engineered coffee. One could not be blamed for thinking that, apart from Beatrice’s respected presence, our formerly hallowed educational institution had gone to the dogs, or rather, had simply not progressed at all. And yet, the sun shines with a particular acuity in Perth, and as we were strolling back from our luncheon, the university’s stately, gracious grounds were awash with light – there was a certain purity to the scene.

Beatrice told me that her whole life is a constant tension between the notion of responsibility, such as looking after your family, and the idea of taking time for yourself, for example, reading a book. Whenever she’s doing one, she feels like she should be doing the other. She described it as two competing ‘discourses’, and even though I hate that word, I think it’s a pretty accurate description. It’s funny because my whole life is weighted in favour of the second alternative –everything I do is dedicated to maximizing my personal fulfillment. Beatrice lives in a very different world.

But Mr Hugo, I fear I am boring you. As you know, Perth, ostensibly all sweetness and light, has  a dark side. My good family friend Paul Dorkin to once described it to myself and my dear sister Sylvia as an ‘evil, evil town.’ Perth’s sinister underbelly (remember my unfortunate proclivity for men with sinister underbellies?) is most apparent while travelling on its ruthlessly efficient railway system.  There are a series of posters based on nursery tales – Jack and Jill, Mary had a little lamb – all aimed at targeting various forms of anti-social behavior like fare evasion, scratching glass, not standing up for seniors – but there’s something almost Stalinist in the combination of childhood whimsy and discipline. Perhaps I’m being ridiculous, and overstating it?

At the Cannington station, they have ‘Lock and Ride’ cages for bikes, which are open between 9 and 3.30. So far, so good. But there were some bikes locked up outside the cage, and when I looked at them, I noticed that they had these pieces of paper curled over their handle bars, with the following words printed on them, ‘We remind you that bikes must be locked in the bike cage. If you continue to ignore this reminder, your lock will be taken off and your bike removed.’

Yes, Perth is safe and efficient. But at what cost?

How are things in Melbourne town? I hope you are warm and healthy. I have been thinking of you fondly, and send my warmest wishes to your family, friends, and worthy yet beleaguered football team. Can I see you upon my return? Perhaps a visit to the opera?

I am ever your affectionate friend,

Dolores Wagner

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Miss Wagner and I both recommend the practice of encouraging children to write letters to their friends and family.  In this letter, the writer is an eight-year-old child writing to her older sister who is abroad.  While the letter has a certain stream-of-consciousness quality, it provided much amusement to the reader.

Dear Anna

I really miss you so much.  This is a picture of how much I miss you_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

but that’s only minus 10,000 how much.  I’m at school at the moment, but I’m having a pretty good time.  It’s still pretty good having Mrs Stevens and that.  Mrs Stevens, the best thing about having her as a teacher is that she always has a good idea for art.  Every week she has something for us to do.

Acting school is good but the best thing about it is that after the last play we did everybody had a really good feeling that all the audience had had a great time and that we’d done a really good job.  The last play we did was about a coffee shop and a market and Peter Piper who steals a peck of pickled peppers.  I was a waitress in the coffee shop.  I had the hardest line in the play.  It was: a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee cup.  It was so much fun standing up there in front of about 60 people saying those lines but that was in June.  I’m in a new play now called Traffic Jam and the Chicken Joke.

So.  I had my party last night.  It’s Saturday so we had to clean up the mess.  But for 10 girls all 8 years old 6 litres of fizzy drink is a lot.  But the party was ok.  Some of us got hurt at the park and some of us got so hot that if we stopped breathing for 6 seconds we really did look like a radish.

My party also was a pancake party except I didn’t get a piece of my own cake or a pancake because Mum didn’t make enough.  But you can’t blame Mum, because it just goes to show that you should not get packeted things because they never come out actually having 36 pancakes.  They turn out only having 11.  What I didn’t like was that Dad threw out the last piece of cake which I had waited for till last like a real gentleman.  Not saying that I really want to be a real gentleman.  Still it could be quite fun, so I would not mind if I woke up one morning and I was in a tuxedo.

I suppose you know that we will probably be getting a new Kingswood or we will never go on holidays again.  Unless you want to walk to Bournda.  Or use Nana and Pa’s car except that they would not have enough room to fit in and nobody is going to get me in that car to sit on the floor for ten hours driving to Bournda.  Nobody.

And I also thought that I might tell you this last in case you get upset but the Bombers lost against Geelong.  But Essendon one the better song lyrics because Geelong’s song is like this, listen to this if you think Essendon’s song is boring:  We are the best YES YES YES YEAH because we are Geelong bym bym bym bym BECAUSE we are Geelong bum bum bum. Essendon were still winning at half time except they lost the game.



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To my dear sister

May I tell you of a recent outing?  I hope that it may amuse you, being so fond of travel as you are.  Perhaps it may prompt you to accompany me when we next set out?

Our party included Mr Lawrie; Mr Lawrie’s school friend and his sister; and my dear friend Miss Wagner.  As you might imagine, the conversation was sprightly, despite the early hour.  We spoke at length of books and of the passing scenery.  In all, the journey proceeded in a most enjoyable fashion, despite a penetrating smell of cabbage from our packed lunch. 

We stopped in Healesville for a light breakfast.  As we ate our meals, who should we see but our Premier, the Hon. John Brumby!  Mr Lawrie reported that he ordered a “snot block”, although I am unable to confirm this report.

From Healesville, we crossed over the Black Spur.  The forest there is greener than I anticipated, given the devastation of the fires.  In parts, the tree ferns have returned and the mountain ash are furry with new growth.  As you can imagine, Marysville is much changed.

As we drove on towards the mountain, the sun shone through rows of blackened trees.  Mr Lawrie’s school friend compared this sight to Mr Lawrie’s head (which as you know, is styled in quite a short and spiky hair cut).  To me, however, it had an eery beauty that only increased as we met the snow line.

The purpose of our trip was to journey the mountain on skis.  For Miss Wagner, this skiing expedition was a first, and it proved quite difficult on the icy lower slopes.  However, after great perseverance on her part, she grew in confidence and we were soon racing along the snowy upper trails.

I find that activity and a brisk temperature often result in a fine hunger.  After an hour of skiing, we stopped for a lunch of soup and bread, tea and biscuits.  Despite its questionable cabbage odour, the soup was hearty and warming.  The meal restored our energy for an afternoon of most enjoyable skiing.  On the upper parts of the mountain, the snow was plentiful and the trails were undulating.  The landscape was spectacular and wild, with fire damaged trees in stark contrast to the white snow.  Even better, the atmosphere on the trails was most jovial, with all we met in good spirits with the fine conditions.

On our return, we stopped for a warming coffee in Marysville.  Perhaps it was due to my sensitivity to coffee, but our conversation became quite heated as we discussed the relative merits of new technologies.  Given the lively debate, it seemed that we were home in no time, to unpack our damp clothes and reflect on the merits of the day.

I hope that I have not bored you with this long account of our outing.  It was a most enjoyable day.  Perhaps the two of us might travel together soon?  I would love to hear from you, especially of your plans for the coming months.

Yours always,

Your most affectionate sister,

Ethel May Beeton

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My dear friend Beatrice,

It has been many months since I have put pen to paper. My neglect springs from distraction, not indolence. The brain tends to become crowded with the trivial matters of everyday life, so that one forgets to honour those most dear to them. But Beatrice, rest be assured that you and your dear family are never far from my heart. I am told that your studies are going marvellously, and that Edward’s band are making quite a name for themselves. I hope the acclaim will crush the doubts of those Argus-eyed social critics who disapprove of your family’s ascetic lifestyle, which is but a natural consequence of the impecunious yet noble professions adopted by yourself and Edward. And young Cynthia? Such a fair maiden. No doubt she grows more beautiful by the day, so it will not be long before you have to hide her away entirely to protect her from the clamouring of eager suitors.

I am just returned from a skiing expedition to Lake Mountain. To get there, we passed the areas worst affected by the Black Saturday bushfires. This included Marysville, a former holiday town, where you can see caravans on blocks of vacant land and petrol signs with no petrol station in sight – it had been burnt entirely to the ground. They are now are doing their best to rebuild, some of the population have moved back, and a few buildings have been rebuilt. I caught my breath at the rows of skeletal trees silhouetted on the mountain ridge, recognising the image which has been pictured in countless newspaper articles about the fires.

Lake Mountain that day had a still and ethereal beauty; steel-blue sky draped in wrathes of mist, fields of snow, black twisted trees with clumps of white clinging precariously to their limbs. There were newly emerging shoots of green; even ferns poking out from underneath snow in some places. It must be difficult for those who lost families and homes in the bushfires to be constantly confronted with these physical reminders, not only of their loss, but also of the seemingly oblivious momentum of new life.

I have always considered skiing to be somewhat of an elite sport; a little like scuba diving. The expense and complexity of the equipment seems a little at odds with the idea of being at one with nature.  But I found it exhilarating. Cross country skiing (perhaps as opposed to ‘downhill’ skiing) feels like a bush walk; so in that sense, our expedition was more about being out amongst that unique environment rather than chasing thrills.

As you know Beatrice, I am very uncoordinated, and unskilled at using tools. I believe skis count as tools. I fell over many, many times, so that I am now incredibly sore, with little hope of a swift recovery. My dear friend Miss Beeton, who was the one who kindly invited me on the trip, was actually very accomplished. She did not fall over once, in fact, I began to think of her as an ice princess. She and her friends were also very patient with me. When we started the trip, we had to go uphill, and I could not move at all. I was actually very worried as I thought I would hold the whole party up. But Miss Beeton gave me a swift lesson, and pretty soon I got the hang of it.

Indeed, my companions were so kind, they even furnished me with food and drink of the highest quality. Home made Anzac biscuits, apple muffins, vegetable soup, and hot tea. I was very impressed with their culinary skills. As Miss Beeton pointed out to me, it reminds one of how essential food is, and how important it is to be prepared before venturing out into the wilderness.

The last half hour of our trip was difficult for me. Up until then, I had been moving along nicely. All of a sudden, my energy levels flagged, but most of the last bit was downhill, and we also had to rush in order to get the skis back on time. At this stage, I found it impossible to avoid careering wildly down the hill, completely out of control, and plunged headfirst into the snow several times to avoid hitting little children, who by the way, were mostly far more competent than me (I think it is much easier to learn these things as a youngster). It was tough, and I felt like giving up, like sleeping in the snow. But Miss Beeton told me that if I were to fall asleep, I might die there. So I kept going, and did in the end make it.

Although weary, we had many lively conversations in the car on the way home. The following topics were covered: freemasonry, Terry Pratchett, ‘Snuggies’ (electric blankets that keep  you warm during winter), consumerism, whether Formula One creates incentives for environmentally efficient technologies, whether penalties should be tougher for those who kill strangers as opposed to people they know, the proliferation of new technologies and whether they’re actually making life easier, the fact that Hungry Jacks is better than Macdonalds, whether people should wear bike helmets, whether discriminatory advertising against women should be restricted, and whether Australia is a nanny state. Beatrice, you would have offered unique insights into these matters and I wish you were there to be part of our discussion. However, we can add them to our itinerary for discussion in the next few weeks when I visit you in Perth. I am so looking forward to that.

I have one last story for you, Beatrice. On the way to the ski fields, we stopped in Healesville at Beechworth Bakery (a stalwart Victorian chain). There, we were lucky enough to see our Premier, the Honourable John Brumby, who ordered a vanilla slice. My companions suggested that the Premier’s arrival was our cue to leave, so we did. Many young folk here are not overly taken with Mr Brumby and his style of leadership. In fact, when upon arriving home from our expedition, I told my lady love I had run into Mr Brumby, she told me I should have given him a ‘wedgie’. She even suggested he would be wearing spiderman underpants. While I was most shocked at these improper comments, and blush to repeat them to you, they certainly illustrate the depth of dissatisfaction with our gentleman premier.

Thanks for reading this overly long epistle and I hope it has not bored you. I know though, that you, out of anyone, are most likely to dedicate time to digesting such a tome, for I am, after all, your old and dear, albeit neglectful friend.  

Lots of love from that very same friend,

Dolores Wagner

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